When City of Hope kicked off its 2018 fundraising campaign in April, Spirit of Life Award honoree Jon Platt pledged then that the organization’s 45th annual gala dinner “is going to be one that you’ll never forget.” And Platt definitely made good on that promise on Thursday night (Oct. 11) as Beyoncé, JAY-Z and host Pharrell Williams were among the 1,200 music stars, prominent industry execs, family and friends who feted the Warner/Chappell Music chairman/CEO during the “Harmony of Hope”-themed gala.
Fittingly, the sold-out evening capped a momentous day in music history: President Trump had signed into law the Music Modernization Act earlier in the day. Those gathered inside the chandelier-decorated Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California, helped raise more than $6 million toward City of Hope’s ongoing mission to cure and ultimately prevent cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. Evan Lamberg, president of Universal Music Publishing, North America and president of City of Hope’s Music, Film & Entertainment Industry Board, announced that the campaign’s single largest individual donor was investor Robert F. Smith. The founder, chairman and CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners donated $500,000, earmarking $250,000 toward prostate cancer treatment for black men and the other half for breast cancer research for black women.
The evening also doubled as a send-off for Platt, whose departure from Warner/Chappell before the end of the calendar year was revealed in September. Widely reported to be accepting the reins at Sony/ATV, neither Platt nor the industry’s top music publishing company have yet made a formal announcement. However, the executive came the closest as he has to date to acknowledging his next career chapter during a moving and inspirational acceptance speech referencing diversity, black culture, his industry peers, songwriters (“Who represent diversity in all its forms and continue to prove every day that genius does not discriminate”), his mom and family, plus his unwavering commitment to the City of Hope and its doctors and staff.
Walking onstage to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star” and a standing ovation, an emotional Platt said in part, “It’s a lot … Thank you. I had no idea what to expect tonight. I won’t keep you long; it’s also very clear that I’m the opening act tonight [audience laughter]. When I received the call about this in January/February— this is the worst thing for a big black dude to be sniffling and shit [laughs] — I began to think about how I could use this opportunity to share this spotlight with so many people, with the culture that supported and nurtured me, and also be able to shine a light on the generation of executives I’ve grown up with in this industry who are ready to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.
“It was very important for me that if I was going to do this, then I told them that we’ve got to do it my way. Meaning I’m not going to be the only brother in the room. I’m going to bring all my friends with me. And it was important to me that this be black tie because I wanted you to see us at our best. Take a look around this room, which is completely sold out, and remember what happens when you make a point not to exclude anybody and actually include everybody. Because when you include everybody, you make it possible for a Robert Smith to come and drop a $500,000 donation.
“I take this honor so seriously tonight. As an African American CEO, I proudly embrace the responsibility to lend a helping hand to people of color that are coming up in this industry as well as represent my friends and colleagues that are already doing good in this game. I’m so happy tonight that I get to celebrate tonight with [fellow African American industry executives] Jay Brown, Ethiopia Habtemariam, Jeff Harleston, Sylvia Rhone, Coach K and Pee, Larry Jackson and so many others. We’re more than athletes and entertainers. We’re CEO’s, cancer survivors; we’re a lot of things.
“I want to give a huge thank you to my Warner/Chappell family and the Warner Music Group,” continued Platt, whose oldest son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes several years ago. “I didn’t get to this stage alone tonight. I’d like to celebrate some of the people who helped shape me like Chuck D, who told me to dream bigger while I was still a DJ in Denver. One day I saw a Newsweek magazine cover that talked about the new black power with CEO’s Dick Parsons and Ken Chenault. So, I got to work and dreamed of being a CEO. Then I got bold in my dreams and I’ll admit it to you tonight: I dreamed of running the largest music publishing company in the world one day. And a few weeks ago, I opened my eyes and I could see it.”
Before presenting Platt with the Spirit of Life award, friend and colleague JAY-Z sparked an “oh wow” moment of his own during a humorous and insightful introduction of “my brother Jon Platt, the artist formerly known as Big Jon. He’s such a selfless human being and passionate person.”
After noting Platt’s various pursuits as a camera buff, audiophile and cyclist (“He has the whole suit and the butt pads”), JAY-Z continued, “I know he’s super nervous tonight to be in front of all of these people and that’s making me so happy [laughs]. I’ve been with him since 1997; my contract is tied to his. If he leaves, I leave period. This man has worked his way up from a Denver DJ to be the highest-ranking black executive [in music]. He’s the Obama of the music industry behind some of the biggest hits in the world. This couldn’t happen to a finer person.”
Following his acceptance speech, Platt brought Beyoncé to the stage. “She leads by example,” he said. “She shows all of us how to dream big, how to believe in what’s possible. But most important, how to help and inspire others. That’s the real Spirit of Life.”
The singer, who recently concluded the On the Run II tour with JAY-Z, said of Platt, “Most people in this industry lead with their ego. You lead with your heart.” She then performed several songs (including “XO” and “Perfect Duet”) with a live band before closing with “Halo” and drawing a rousing standing ovation to end the evening. A high-energy performance by Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue opened the night, followed by the Grammy-winning gospel duo Mary Mary. Pharrell Williams, another Platt friend/colleague, hosted the evening. “Jon represents the perfect intersection,” noted Williams. “He loves music and the community but also loves philanthropy.”
Among the host of key industry and entertainer names spotted in the room were music legend Quincy Jones, Dr. Dre, Clarence Avant and wife Jackie, producer/songwriter Alex da Kid, Motown president Ethiopia Habtemariam, Quality Control Music principals Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “Pee” Thomas, Bebe Rexha, Timbaland, Rita Ora, Wiz Khalifa and Tiffany Haddish. Besides Jones, past Spirit of Life honorees on hand included Kathy Nelson, Coran Capshaw, Joel Katz, Rob Light and Phil Quartararo. Guests noshed on lettuce wedges and short ribs while sampling specialty cocktails made with D’Ussé. Chocolate chip cookies, sliders and freshly made pizza rounded out the afterparty fare.
Jermaine Dupri helmed the City of Hope’s first-ever after party as DJ, spinning hits like Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” and Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” that had JAY-Z, Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Usher dancing among the 200-person crowd. Dupri later played Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” before bringing Platt onstage to celebrate the executive one more time.
Additional reporting by Ashley Lyles and Melinda Newman